Across the East of England, our drinking water comes from two main sources – ground water and/or rivers.  The split between the two is roughly 50/50.  Whatever the original source, one of the biggest risks to the water quality is the impact of pollution from agricultural chemicals and pesticides. Why? Simply because some of them, like Clopyralid, used for weed control, are extremely difficult to remove via traditional water treatment methods.  Anglian Water’s Catchment Advisor Gary Hodgetts explains more.

The East of England is often referred to as the ‘bread basket’ of England.  And rightly so – agriculture covers three quarters of this region from arable fields glowing with bright yellow flowers in the Spring, to livestock enjoying summer pastures.   However, farmer’s trying to secure good yields is no easy task and does not come without its complications.

Controlling weeds is extremely important to both arable and grassland farmers and one chemical ingredient used called Clopraylid presents one of our greatest challenges as a water company.  Put simply, it is extremely difficult to remove by traditional water treatment methods.  This means if the levels of pesticide in the water are too high before the treatment process, we have to find an alternative supply to replace or dilute the original water source, before it can go to our customers’ taps.

In 2012, routine sampling of four boreholes at Winterton Holmes, North Lincolnshire found high levels of two ingredients commonly used in pesticides, one being Clopraylid.  Although the amount of pesticide only equated to around a capful, in thousands of litres of water, the immediate result was the closure of the boreholes and drinking water being taken from an alternative supply to cover the demand in the surrounding area.

Our subsequent investigations revealed the source of the pesticide likely to be a farm yard within the area known to feed the boreholes.  Over the last three years the levels of pesticides found in this water have continued to reduce.

Working with farmers

That’s why Anglian Water’s Catchment Advisors work with farmers across the region, raising awareness of the risks associated with pesticide use and providing them with the tools and information they need to reduce those risks and protect our water sources.

Pesticides can find their way into water in a number of ways, for instance; they can run off the surface of the land into drains or ditches after heavy rain, spray can be blown into rivers by the wind, soil can erode from the river banks and so on.  However, up to 70% of pesticide losses from agriculture found in the river can be attributed to the pesticide handling area in the farm yard alone.

The good news is in comparison to the other routes, reducing risks from the yard is relatively easy. The Catchment Team now have a project in place to assist farmers in improving their facilities within yards when handling pesticides to ensure any spills or drips are contained.

In order to meet the strict Drinking Water Standards pesticide levels must be below 0.1 micrograms per litre (or parts per billion) in treated water.  This is the equivalent to 1p in £100 million so we are talking about minute amounts which could arise from small drips and spills finding there way to a drain, ditch and subsequently into the main watercourse.

How we’re helping to lead the industry
There’s already lots of information out there about the building requirements for bunded pesticide handling areas, roofing, Biobeds and Biofilters. The bunded pesticide pad to contain drips, spills and washings into an underground sump tank is the ideal. However, although grants may be available to help build these, they may not be something the farm business can support or have space for. In these cases, a simple low cost drip tray can help reduce risks and be used straight away and in any situation.Drip trays with pesticides

Anglian Water has been working with DaRo Products Ltd to produce drip trays to give out to all the farmers with land surrounding our drinking water reservoirs. We’re the first water company to do this, with others now staring to follow suite.The drip trays are made from recycled ABS plastic sheets which are suspended, heated and formed using  bespoke aluminum tools. They can  be used under the induction bowlof the sprayer or have knapsacks positioned inside them to ensure any drips or spills are caught.

Not just for use on the farmyard…

Because of the positive feedback we’ve received from our farmers, we’re also giving some trays out to local equine facilities and allotment users (as lower scale but equally important pesticide users) to help raise awareness of the issue and promote safe pesticide use.

For more information or advice, farmers can contact their relevant Catchment Advisor.

Posted by Anglian Water